The Scout-Led Troop #2: Train ‘em, Trust ‘em, and Let ‘em Lead

Bill Chapman

Bill Chapman

Due to bad traffic and bad weather on the way up the mountain, we arrived at our campsite of about 7,000 feet elevation at around 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night. There were patches of snow on the ground and it was probably about 30° F. Shortly after arriving, I watched one of our Scouts tinkering with a Coleman stove. I was impressed to see the tenacity of this young Scout sticking to his task. Finally, he got the stove lit and cooked a few hamburgers, much to the delight of his hungry patrol members.

It is not always done this way. I have seen adults crowd in on a Scout who was trying to cook hash browns or eggs and tell him, “Let me show you how to do it,” then take over the job. A love of cooking in the outdoors seems to be in the DNA of many adult males and some of us fear that a 12- or 13-year-old Scout will certainly ruin a good meal. When this happens, it is a real temptation to jump in and take over the job under the guise of “teaching” the Scout “how to do it.” What is wrong with this approach?

First, Scouts camp and cook as patrols and adults are not a part of any patrol; therefore, adults should not be cooking and eating with Scouts. Adults should be watching from a safe distance. Furthermore, cooking skills are a requirement for each of the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class, not to mention the Eagle-required Cooking merit badge. What a wonderful opportunity for a more experienced Scout to refine and hone his skills and to teach a younger Scout. Every time an adult teaches a skill that a Scout could teach, the adult is robbing the Scout of an opportunity to maximize his growth and development.

To understand this better, let’s review what a “patrol” is. “Each troop is made up of one or more patrols: groups of about eight Scouts who camp together, cook together, play together, and learn together. In patrols, Scouts learn citizenship and practice leadership at the most basic level, and strong patrols are essential building blocks of strong troops” (Troop Leader Guidebook, Volume 1, 11). Sometimes, in LDS troops, a troop is so small that it really only consists of one patrol. That is fine, as long as we maintain the integrity of the patrol system.

Circumventing the patrol structure is one of the ways to make the patrol method fail (Troop Leader Guidebook, Volume 2, 48). Are we circumventing the patrol structure by taking over responsibilities that belong to our Scouts? If “ease and efficiency” in accomplishing the task was our highest goal, we would have an adult do every task. If building character is our primary objective, having the Scouts take on and learn new responsibilities is a better way.

“Does it take more time for four patrols to cook breakfast than for a couple of adults to do it? Yes. Is it hard for a patrol of three Scouts to handle a complex menu? Of course. But remember that ease and efficiency are not among the aims of Scouting.” Guidebook, Volume 2, page 48. Baden Powell turned an old adage on its head when he advised Scoutmasters, “‘When you want a thing done, don’t do it yourself’ is the right motto” (Aids to Scoutmastership, 49).

William “Green Bar Bill” Harcourt was a pioneer in teaching the patrol method in the Boy Scouts of America. Green Bar Bill drove home his message with the simple mandate:  “Train ‘em, Trust ‘em, and Let ‘em Lead.” This is a principle that is easy to espouse but hard to implement. If we are honest with ourselves, we have probably each crossed this line and done more for our Scouts than we should have. We do this with very good intentions but without having the bigger picture in mind.

Green Bar Bill was not unfamiliar with objections that we may have uttered or heard others utter. He wrote:

“At this point—if not before—some Scoutmaster will step forward and say, ‘That is all right, all you have been saying about the patrol method. But I have tried it in my troop, and it just doesn’t work!’ And he goes on, ‘Take last week, for instance. We had our program all outlined, but the boys fell down on it. The patrol leaders had forgotten to prepare their Scouts, equipment was missing, and our game leader didn’t show up. I simply had to take over the meeting myself in order to keep it from being a general mix-up!’”

“Which altogether proves nothing against the patrol method, but on the contrary that the Scoutmaster wasn’t using it. He proved it by making the mistake of taking over the meeting. And for two reasons: In the first place, the boy leaders will expect him to do the same thing next time they fail, and failure under those circumstances will mean nothing to them, will teach them nothing. And secondly, the Scoutmaster by his action showed all the members of the troop that he had no faith in the leaders they had chosen, breaking down completely the respect for them.”

“The failure was the Scoutmaster’s, not the boys’, nor the patrol method’s. He had failed to apply to himself the’test of the easy chair,’ and had not remembered the simple formula for success in using his patrol leaders: ‘Train ’em, trust ’em, and let ’em lead!’” (William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt Handbook for Scoutmasters, , 1936, 223.)

As can be seen from the example above, applying this principle takes discipline. It takes trust and confidence in young men or boys we may not yet trust. Maybe we need to plead to the Lord to help us develop trust. Interestingly, being “trustworthy” is the first point in the Scout Law. If we want them to become trustworthy, we must learn to trust them.

The phrase “Train ’em, trust ’em, and let ’em lead!” should not sound unfamiliar to LDS Scouters. In the priesthood session of the 183rd Annual General Conference, Elder Tad R. Callister taught that while he was a mission president he observed “a dramatic increase in the spirituality and leadership skills of young men during their mission years.” He identified the keys to this dramatic growth in such a short period of time as: “(1) we trust these young men as never before, (2) we have high but loving expectations of them, and (3) we train and retrain them so they can fulfill those expectations with excellence.”

Elder Callister continued by asking why we couldn’t apply these same principles to a deacons quorum president. He went on to tell us how we as adult advisers can help:  “We can raise the bar and vision for these young men, and they will respond. You leaders lift these deacons quorum presidents best when you let them lead out and you step back from the spotlight” (emphasis added). Can we see that Elder Callister and Green Bar Bill are teaching essentially the same principle? If this principle will accelerate the spiritual growth of a deacons quorum president, can the same principle be applied to our Scouts?

In my own experience, I was amazed that when we started letting the Scouts run their own troop, they were very capable of doing so. Watching them take on real responsibility and rising to the occasion made my calling a joy. There were definitely disappointments and failures but watching young men govern themselves in a way I never thought possible was a delight. I will be sharing more of my stories in future blog posts. But for now, I would like to hear from each of you.

What experiences have you had in your efforts to apply this principle in your troop? We have certainly all had our failures and successes. Please feel free to share your struggles and successes in the comments section below. As we candidly share our challenges and triumphs, we will accelerate the growth in spirituality and leadership skills of the young men throughout the Church.

 

-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, and loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, do anything in the outdoors, and watch young men achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood through the Scouting program. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.

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  1. What a great message! Considering how a unit cooks is an excellent way to determine how well the unit’s patrol method is working.

    The first time I went to summer camp, my patrol fried pancakes over a roaring fire. The outsides of the cakes were blackened, but when cut, uncooked batter oozed out. My Scoutmaster clearly saw what was going on. He could have rescued us. But he didn’t.

    Later an older Scout explained that we needed to get the temperature of the pan just right, not too hot or cold. The next time we did pancakes, one patrol member’s sole assignment was to ensure that the griddle was in the right temperature range.

    We learned to make decent pancakes over a fire. But probably more importantly, we learned how to work more effectively as a patrol. I’m sure we still looked like chaos in motion to an untrained observer. But my Scoutmaster knew better.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Scott, what a great story and what a great Scoutmaster! It takes a lot of discipline to step back and “let ’em lead” but it is so rewarding as you have experienced even as a Scout. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Stanley Stolpe says:

    Great topic and well said. I always tried to make sure each patrol had it’s own camp site and kept the adults off in the distance. I’d visit only with the SPL and well announced.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Stan, I’m glad to hear these stories of LDS units doing it right. Sometimes I think as LDS Scouters or committee members or parents, we tend to be a little more overprotective. Very well-intentioned, but overprotective, nonetheless. Its not neglect if we are within sight and sound, but if we get much closer, they don’t have the agency to really learn and develop character. Thanks for weighing in on this.

  3. Daniel says:

    I really like your post Bill. Honestly cooking as patrols is one of the best first steps toward building a boy-led troop. When I learned that troops had a leader patrol that cooked their own meal it was liberating. What I realized was that when my personal well-being was tied to the scouts performance I couldn’t help but interfere with their learning to preserve my own comfort. But now that us leaders prepare a meal together I am much more willing to let them experiment and learn with their own meal. The great part about this is that they learn to plan, depend on each other and their own outcomes are tied to their own inputs.

    My question is, with smaller LDS patrols how do you deal with cooking gear. Right now the troop uses a troop grill and pan set but then they struggle to work together to clean up. I have tried patrol kits but it is difficult to scale an appropriate cook set for 4-5 boys (they feel overwhelmed with a full cook set and stove) that they can maintain and keep track of. Our next experiment (boy led idea) is a chore list for each patrol in this regard. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Daniel, thank you for commenting and sharing your positive experiences with the patrol method! I like how you defined a turning point when the leaders decided to eat separately from the scouts. I wholeheartedly endorse that approach. However, we typically reserve the words “leader” and “patrol” for the scouts. We try to reinforce that the leaders of the Troop are the scouts themselves and the adults are only mentors, coaches and advisers. And, technically, a patrol is defined as “a small group of boys who are similar in age, development, and interests.” That definition can be found at http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/BoyScouts/TheBuildingBlocksofScouting/patrol.aspx.

      As for your question about cooking gear for a smaller LDS patrol, I agree that 4-5 boys is smaller than the ideal patrol size and the BSA certainly recommends efforts to recruit additional scouts to bring it up to at least 8 scouts for one patrol. “Patrol size depends upon a troop’s enrollment and the needs of its members, though an ideal patrol size is eight Scouts. Patrols with fewer than eight Scouts should try to recruit new members to get their patrol size up to the ideal number.” http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/BoyScouts/PatrolLeader.aspx

      The last time I was scoutmaster, are priesthood leaders approved combining all 3 wards that met in the same building and we ended up with about 30 scouts, including 7 non-LDS scouts who joined after they found out in their neighborhood how much fun there LDS friends were having. We usually had 3 patrols plus a senior patrol leader and to assist in senior patrol leaders.

      As far as patrol gear, in our Troop, each patrol had its own gear and was responsible for maintaining it. I definitely like your scouts’ idea of a “chore list,” which sounds like just another way of describing the traditional “duty roster,” mentioned in the Boy Scout Handbook and another Boy Scout literature. (See, e.g., http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/BoyScouts/PatrolLeader.aspx.)

      Thanks again for your input and sharing your ideas and questions. I hope others will respond, also.

  4. Chris Booth says:

    Thanks for sharing this valuable insight! I’m still a new Scoutmaster for 11 year olds and have struggled to let them lead out. The references in this article have given me more confidence to trust the boys. I’ve allowed them to each lead in some way but never run the entire patrol meeting. I’ll going to put all my trust in them next week and see how it goes. I’ll provide an update then.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Chris, where are you from? I love to hear these comments and get feedback otherwise I feel like I am just speaking into cyberspace.

      These principles transformed how I approached my calling as a scoutmaster and turned it from stress and strain to a joy and pleasure! There are always going to be growing pains and struggles but watching the scouts take over and do things I never thought they were capable of doing is worth every one of the challenges. One of the most positive outcomes was that our scout started to enjoy an even love scouting when before they complained and wadded their scout shirts up and threw them in the corner.

      I would love to hear your feedback on how it goes when you try this out. You will obviously see the good, the bad and the ugly but if you develop an eye for seeing growth in these scouts, you will definitely be rewarded. It takes a lot of patience but I think you will find it worth the effort. Thanks for your comment.

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